Core EU values are not negotiable, Donald Tusk tells Cameron
The president of the European council has warned that the fundamental values of the EU are non-negotiable and “not for sale” as he advised the prime minister to table a modest reform plan.
With the prime minister preparing to outline his plans to the European summit in Brussels, Donald Tusk said that fellow EU leaders would consider his demands but would not countenance changes to the fundamental principles of the EU.
Tusk, who will chair the negotiations, said as he arrived at the summit: “Our British colleague Prime Minister Cameron will share with us his referendum plans. There are some British concerns we should consider, but only in a way which will be safe for all .
“Today we will only start this process. However, one thing should be clear from the very beginning: the fundamental values of the are not for sale and so are non-negotiable.”
British officials were downplaying the prime minister’s presentation to the summit which is due to take place towards the end of dinner after a lengthy discussion on the Mediterranean migrant crisis. A draft of the summit communique refers to his presentation in just 27 words.
The prime minister is due to tell the summit that he would like Britain to remain within a reformed EU. But he will indicate that he will only be able to campaign for a yes vote in the referendum, which is due to be held by the end of 2017, if he secures a series of reforms. They are:
• Banning EU migrants from claiming in-work benefits for four years.
• A British opt-out from the EU’s historic commitment, dating back to the founding treaty of Rome in 1957, to create an “ever closer union” of the peoples of Europe.
• The creation of safeguards for non-eurozone members to ensure they cannot be outvoted in the single market by eurozone members.
• Giving national parliaments the right to club together to block EU legislation.
Government lawyers have advised Downing Street that it will have to deliver the changes to in-work benefits and secure the opt-out from ever closer union through treaty change. The prime minister, who spoke earlier this year of the need to secure “full-on treaty change”, has been told that the proposed benefits changes could be vulnerable to challenges in the European court of justice unless they are underpinned by treaty change.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, adopted a dismissive tone when he suggested he was unaware of Cameron’s demands.
Asked by the BBC whether he would agree to the prime minister’s demands, Juncker paused before asking: “What does he want?”
Juncker then challenged the prime minister’s tactics when he questioned the need for treaty change. He suggested that two of Cameron’s key demands – curbing benefits and increasing the role of national parliaments – “are matters for national parliaments”.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, said: “Treaty change will, for sure, be a difficult item. Let us discuss what is feasible in necessary reform steps via legislation or administrative solutions. Who is the audience of the prime minister? If it is the Tory group in the parliament we are facing a lot of problems. If it is the British people to convince, then you can achieve here a success and win the majority of the people.”
The prime minister held a final round of meetings and phone calls in Brussels with EU leaders before the summit opened to ensure that he had briefed most leaders ahead of his formal presentations. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, found time during the negotiations over the Greek financial crisis to speak to Cameron over the phone.
Cameron’s presentation will pave the way for his senior EU adviser, Tom Scholar, to hold technical discussions with officials from the council secretariat in Brussels. They will be joined by Jonathan Faull, the most senior British official in the European commission. EU leaders are expected to discuss Cameron’s demands in more details at their annual December summit.